IMO Gears Up to Set Climate-Related Targets for Shipping Sector

15 March 2018

Ahead of the 72nd session of the International Maritime Organization (IMO)’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 72), set to take place in London from 9-13 April, delegates are seeking to build consensus in negotiations for a draft text towards a global agreement to reduce maritime greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The Committee is expected to agree on an initial strategy in April, including a list of possible measures to tackle shipping-related emissions in the near term and targets for longer-term sector-wide decarbonisation, with a final plan due to be elaborated by 2023. Delegates will be tasked with deciding on a timeline for implementation and settling on a baseline year to chart changes in emission levels over time. 

The international shipping sector is responsible for about 2.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and rising. Carbon emissions from shipping are projected to be two to five times higher in 2050 than they were in 1990, according to EU estimates. Shipping emissions, like international aviation, are not covered under the UN’s Paris Agreement on Climate Change. 

Previously, during its 70th MEPC session in October 2016, IMO members agreed on a roadmap towards reducing GHG emissions from maritime transport, tasking a dedicated working group with defining a strategy over a string of intersessional meetings. The working group is scheduled to convene for its third session from 3-6 April, the week preceding MEPC 72, in order to finalise a draft text mapping out an initial IMO GHG strategy. 

Country positions

As countries seek to arrive at a common strategy on GHG emissions reductions, bridging differing levels of ambition across the UN shipping agency’s 173 country membership remains a priority. 

The Marshall Islands, the second largest shipping registry globally, have been joined by a group of other Pacific Island states as well as New Zealand in pushing for a fully decarbonised shipping sector as soon as 2050. 

“It is clear to everyone that before specific measures to reduce emissions are adopted, any disproportionate negative impacts will have to be identified and addressed,” said David Paul, Minister of Environment for the Marshall Islands, according to comments reported by Climate Home. “So there is simply no excuse for countries to stand in the way of an ambitious outcome from the IMO in April. Those of us that are truly committed to climate won’t accept anything less.”

On the other hand, countries pushing for a less ambitious plan have cited concerns about insufficient data, as well as fears about transport cost increases negatively impacting their companies and dampening competitiveness. 

A joint submission from Brazil, India, Argentina, and Saudi Arabia proposes a looser timeline for the vision to cut shipping-driven GHG emissions, replacing an earlier target to reach a zero carbon shipping sector by 2075 with a less specific commitment for phasing out emissions “as soon as possible, but no later than in the second half of this century.” 

EU foreign ministers encouraged the IMO to pursue “swift and appropriate additional actions” for emissions reduction, according to a statement released by the Council of the EU on 26 February. Doing so, they said, would be needed “in order for international shipping to contribute its fair share to the fight against climate change,” as an industry key to global mitigation efforts. They also called for outreach activities to build political momentum in the lead-up to MEPC 72. 

An IMO plan to cut emissions “should be underpinned by an adequate emission reduction objective, consistent with the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement, including a list of candidate short, mid, and long-term measures equally applicable to all ships,” according to the statement. 

The EU has announced its intention to integrate shipping into its emissions trading scheme by 2023 if significant advances are not made at the IMO, specifically through the creation of a fund to support maritime emissions reduction measures. Ship owners would either need to contribute to the fund or buy credits under the EU emissions trading scheme. (See Bridges Weekly, 16 February 2017) 

Enhancing data collection

In related news, amendments to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) entered into force on 1 March, enacting a mandatory data collection system aimed at facilitating IMO monitoring of the energy efficiency of ships. The new regulations require ships to collect data on fuel consumption, distance traversed, and number of “services hours” at sea, as well as on design cargo capacity, beginning from 1 January 2019. (See BioRes, 29 April 2016

The requirements apply to vessels of 5,000 gross tonnage and above, covering 85 percent of carbon emissions from international shipping. 

The reporting system aims to ensure improved transparency, which would help inform MEPC policy decisions on measures to address shipping-related GHG emissions and boost energy efficiency. The data will be collated for annual reporting to the flag state and transferred to an IMO Ship Fuel Oil Consumption Database. The IMO will use this as a basis for summarising results to the MEPC. 

According to an IMO press briefing, “the data collected under the mandatory reporting system will help inform the MEPC when it comes to adopting a revised strategy in 2023.” 

The new rules build on earlier commitments taken in the MEPC to reduce the carbon footprint of the shipping sector. In 2011, the IMO adopted a scheme of mandatory requirements intended to improve the energy efficiency of shipping vessels, the first binding global effort to reduce emissions from an international industry sector. (See Bridges Weekly, 20 July 2011

By 2025 new ships built will be a projected 30 percent more energy efficient than those built in 2014, according to IMO estimates. The MEPC 72 agenda features an item scoping out further technical and operational measures for enhancing the energy efficiency of international shipping. 

In the fifth session of the IMO Sub-Committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR), held in February, members also agreed to a reporting protocol for voluntary measurements to gather black carbon data as well as on methods for data collection for use both by countries and international organisations. The reporting would feed into the UN body’s work assessing the impact of shipping-related emissions of black carbon on the Arctic, a climate pollutant produced by incomplete combustion of carbon-based fuels. 

Seventy Years of IMO

Last week, a ceremony was held at IMO Headquarters in London to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the IMO Convention, attended by government representatives, international organisations, non-governmental organisations, and IMO Secretariat officials. 

“We are celebrating 70 years of achievement, in which the truly vital industry of shipping has become safer, cleaner and greener, thanks to the work of IMO. We are also looking ahead to the exciting new challenges on the horizon,” said IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim, according to an IMO press briefing.

ICTSD reporting; “Brazil fights emissions cap for shipping, citing cost concerns,” CLIMATE HOME, 8 March 2018; “Argentina, Brazil, India, and Saudi Arabia row back on shipping’s climate targets,” SPLASH 247 NEWS, 12 March 2018; “Climate change: Is shipping finally on board?” OECD OBSERVER, December 2017; “MARPOL amendments enter into force,” TANKER OPERATOR, 9 March 2018.

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